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Germany

Helping Germany's Bought Brides

Every year, German men go to Asia, Africa and eastern Europe to buy a wife. A German organization is trying to help the women, who often end up in abusive relationships and have no one to turn to.

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Reality looks different for many women once they're in Germany

Every year, some 350,000 men from Germany travel to Asia, Africa - and recently also to eastern Europe - to avail themselves of the services of prostitutes or to purchase a wife, according to a study by Germany’s ministry for women.

Often they are men who feel inferior to emancipated and self-confident women, so instead they browse through a catalogue or look after they arrive for what they hope will be an affectionate, compliant plaything. They then frequently bring their “ladylove” back to Germany as a bought bride.

Women brought to Germany in this way often have high hopes that their lives will improve but are soon disillusioned when they discover they are being used as sex slaves.

Problems with German women

If they’re lucky, they’ll find out about Solwodi, or Solidarity With Women In Distress.

The founder of the organization, Lea Ackermann, has been fighting for decades for foreign women in need. She thinks many of the men who go abroad to buy themselves a wife have problems with German women.

"Besides, they have the fantasy of the Asian woman with a permanent smile on her face or the foreign woman who knows what’s good for a man, and so on,” she told Deutsche Welle.

Real love is rare

The foreign woman forced into marriage with a man she hardly knows is usually not even able to talk to him, Ackermann said. Only in the rarest of cases does real love develop from this partnership of convenience.

Zwangsheirat - gebundene Hände

In many cases, however, the supposed dream of a “new happiness” ends in humiliation, repression and violence. Many women are locked up at home from morning to night in this form of modern slavery. More often than not it’s a neighbour that calls in a Solwedi staff member.

Lea Ackermann has meanwhile progressed to become an expert in matters relating to the international trafficking of women, forced prostitution and trading in marriages. With Solwodi she offers women in distress an extensive network of advisory centers and protective apartments throughout Germany.

Training on offer

"If they’re here illegally, we’ll try to do everything to ensure they’re at least tolerated," she said. "Or if they’re very young and want to start an apprenticeship, we’ll do everything to find them one. Then if they want to or have to go home because they realize they have no chance here, we have the repatriation project.”

The organization also grants the women loans to build up a livelihood – whether in Germany or in their home country. Every year, Solwwodi has to develop a new perspective for the lives of about 600 women from 80 countries. Ackermann said she prefers it when the women lead their new lives in complete independence of men:

"What I regard as a success is when a woman stands on her own two feet and says: 'I can now take charge of my own life. I now have a job and can earn money. And I can be there for my family.' Or when a woman gains a positive outlook to life.”

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